This week the Government put their values into action by voting against the third reading of the "Psychoactive Substances (Increasing Penalty for Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill". Hāpai Te Hauora, Māori public health advocates, say this is a small step in the right direction to treating drug harm as a health issue in Aotearoa.
As expressed by many MPs in Parliament, rather than addressing drug demand, this bill would instead have entrenched the cycle of drug distribution and harm.
David Seymour acknowledged that the only reason it is viable to produce and sell synthetic substances in the first place is because the natural alternative has been previously prohibited.
Hāpai has long supported the view that treating psychoactive substances in the same way that cannabis has been treated will produce the same result - criminalising people whose main crime is being born into circumstances which predispose them to health, deprivation and/or education disadvantages. This is specifically an equity issue, as Māori communities have historically been disproportionately affected by drug harm, and harmful drug legislation.
"Meaningful change in our communities is not going to come out of punitive legislation," says Selah Hart, CEO of Hāpai. "We need to address the determinants of wellbeing and consider what will effectively decrease demand. Locking more people up hasn’t worked in the past and it wouldn’t have worked in this instance. It is reassuring to know that the Government is choosing to actively address wider systematic issues and health inequities that cause the demand for psychoactive substances in the first place, rather than backing legislation that had no evidence to prove it would work."